Eagle and Ice Fall Spotting at Starved Rock

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I last visited Starved Rock State Park a couple of months ago. It was after heavy rains and I figured the water falls would be flowing nicely, which they were.

This time, my interest was sparked by the fact it had been REALLY cold for the last few days. I was hoping to see some Ice. So I set out at about 7am on the 1½ hour journey to Starved Rock.

Apart from a little issue during my journey with 7-Eleven and their customer service, the day was fantastic. I spent about three hours on the edges of the Illinois River trying to get good shots of the Bald Eagles which Winter in the area, and another 2-3 hours walking the trails and checking out the Ice Falls.

As it is my first time shooting the Eagles there, I really wasn’t sure which side of the river to be on. I drove back and forth a few times. The best place to shoot seems to be on the north side of the river, but most of my shots were a bit dark as the sun was causing a silhouette, but I did get a couple of shots where some under-side detail could be seen.

Eagle circling over the Illinois River.

Eagle circling over the Illinois River.

The main thing I learned was that they don’t move very fast. On a windy day they actually seem almost motionless as they use the air to stay up. They are relatively easy to photograph and between 9-11am you’ll see 5-10 Eagles in the air at once sometimes. It’s quite amazing. However, no photo can really do justice to seeing these birds flying, perched and fighting over a fish in mid-air, it really is an awesome experience.

I also learned that I need a longer lens. I was working with a Nikkor 55-200mm VR lens and it just didn’t get me close enough. Next year I will probably rent a big lens especially for this trip.

Eagles everywhere, but I just couldn't get as close as I wanted with my lens.

By 11am the Eagles seem to settle down and become less active, so shortly after that I went to the south side of the Illinois River to walk the trails in Starved Rock State Park. I didn’t know how frozen the waterfalls would be, but I was delighted by what I saw.

Walking towards Wildcat Canyon

Wildcat Canyon Icefall

Wildcat Canyon Icefall

Ice at Wildcat Canyon

I snapped a lot of photos at Wildcat Canyon, but was a little disappointed by the light (the sun was rising a bit higher than I had seen it before at this Canyon). I started to walk to the next Canyon by the side of the Illinois River (south side) and suddenly, overhead, was an Eagle.

I saw it swoop out of the trees and I just had time to snap a bunch of photos before he left to go fishing.

Eagle which surprised me on south side of Illinois River

To my complete delight I had managed to get my best Eagle photos of the day when I least expected to. Because I was on the south side of the river, the Sun had moved enough that the light was just perfect on the belly of the bird. It just goes to show that you can stand ‘where you’re supposed to’ for hours, but you really can end up with a better shot anywhere along the river.

I looked up, wondering where that Eagle had come from, and found another right infront of me.

I didn't get many shots of him, but this just shows the south side of the river has them too...

I carried on walking and went by French Canyon, although I didn’t get many good photos there as there were some other people there (usually I am the first one in and the last one out, but these folks stayed longer than me!)

French Canyon Icefall

Aurora Canyon had disappointing light as it was now the middle of the day (you can see photos of it in the Flickr set), so I left and walked on, but this scene and it’s colors leapt out at me…

Walking back from Aurora Canyon

I then hopped in the car to drive to the other side of the State Park and visit the St Louis Canyon, and this is probably where (when the light settled) I took a few of my best Icefall shots of the day.

St Louis Canyon

By the time I got here it was just getting above freezing, and the melt had really started!

It's not often I rotate the camera

Interesting to see how far the water travels from the main stream

When that chunk eventually drops, it's going to be BIG.

Icicles just scream at me for diagonal framing...

The results of a VERY mild Winter this year.

And to round off the post, here’s a shot of a Goose in mid-flight. Don’t forget you can view a lot more photos from this day in the Flickr set.

Goose in mid-flight

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Tim is British and lives in the United States with his wife and kids.

He works for software developers Image Space Inc. and Studio 397 on their racing simulations, and is a fan of Gaming, Motorsports, and photography.